The fact that sex education is considered taboo and a ‘dangerous thing’ in a country with the highest population in the world is an irony. Be it government officials in the Department of Education, school administrations or parents of students, society and its stakeholders, all look at sex education as ‘too much information’ that they fear will encourage promiscuity in the young.
Statistically, India has an alarming picture to show in the areas of child marriages, teenage pregnancies and porn viewership among the young. In rural and urban areas, alike, early marriage among girls and consequently sex and ensuing pregnancy pose a harmful threat to the health of adolescent girls.
Even among the societal groups that are supposedly “educated” and away from the tradition of early marriages, lack of education about their own bodies and sexuality and more so about the bodies and sexuality of the opposite sex is a dangerous thing, especially in the light of fantasy-based information about these issues through the very easily accessible medium of pornography. Women and men – young and old alike – are astonishingly unaware when it comes to subjects like sexually transmitted diseases, ovulatory cycles, pre-ejaculation semen (that also contains sperm and can therefore cause pregnancy) and other crucial and relevant issues.
In schools, biology lessons to high-school students can be a source of information about the male and female anatomy, but research has shown that these subjects are sometimes skipped through hurriedly. Even when the lessons are discussed in class, they do not sufficiently inform and educate students about sex. This medium, too, is absent for students who choose commerce or arts. Even worse, teachers themselves are not properly trained in imparting such education and, often, have pretty antediluvian ideas about sex. In such a situation, the only source that the young then have to obtain information about sex is, either, from among their peer group or through pornography sites over the Internet. So, essentially, it is images and stimuli based on lewd fantasies that are, worryingly, teaching our young about sex, imparting wrong expectations and debasing what is, at the core, an act of love.
HIV/AIDS and sexually-transmitted diseases are another burning issue in India. NACO estimates that 73 per cent of young people have incorrect information about HIV/AIDS and transmission. Misconceptions about birth control methods, including condoms and contraceptive pills, are also rife and the recent availability of emergency contraceptives as an over-the-counter drug further add to the problem while posing serious danger to the reproductive health of females.
A very important factor that cannot be overlooked while talking about the need for authentic knowledge about sex is also the influence of media. At a time when sex is selling everything from deodorant to cement, the need for a well-designed educational programme on what sex actually is and entails is crucially required to balance the flood of information that is based on distorted fantasy. Sex education given at the correct age will be beneficial not only at the adolescent stage, but also in later years to enable men and women to plan families and be better prepared for family life.
By clinging to unsubstantiated morality, the society has effectively closed down avenues for its young to get balanced information about sex. On the other hand, unregulated and fantasy-based material in the form of soft pornography in the electronic and print media and hard-core pornography on websites are distorting perceptions about physical intimacy in the young and old, alike.